It’s getting on Halloween time and this crazy story is just the way to get ready.
Strained tones vibrated through the darkened hall. A light breathy voice trembled. It reverberated into the bedroom. Alexis rubbed her growing womb. Another kick twitched against her skin.
She brushed her hand over her husband’s warm chest. She tangled her fingers through the hairs matting his pecs and clenched her eyes shut.
Not again, she thought. For hours she laid counting each breath─drawing in air as slow as possible before exhaling. Another series of flutters rushed against her pelvis. She sat up.
“Will.” She shook her husband’s shoulder. “Please wake up.”
He groaned, licked his chops with a smacking sound that stopped her auditory hallucination.
She pressed her hands to her belly button. “I hope you’re not this deep a sleeper.” She giggled quietly. “Most moms wish their baby’s will sleep, but I just can’t wait to hold you in my arms.”
No jolt of movement answered.
“Oh good. Now you’re asleep.” She rocked back and forth and welcomed the stillness. Her pillow sat bunched up the side of the bed smattered with shards of moonlight creeping through the backyard trees. They reached through the gaps in the window shade like a natural nightlight.
A high note sounded from the darkness. Alexis clenched her muscles.
Heightened senses and odd dreams were common pregnancy symptoms she had heard about, but these late night lullabies gave her the fear of schizophrenia. Memories of her fiery grandmother, Nell, haunted each shadow. Some days the old woman’s heated laugh and lust for life had won everyone’s hearts, but when the voices spoke to her no one was safe.
Alexis shook off the goosebumps creeping up her neck. She crawled over her husband to get off the bed. Struggling to get her footing, she screamed as he grabbed her arms.
“It’s real. You hear it now?” she asked.
He blinked at her and pointed to the bathroom. “The chickens are over there.”
“What?” She pulled away.
“Green ribbons,” he shouted, then his arms went limp and he snored.
Alexis wrinkled her forehead. She rubbed his beard and sighed. “You haven’t talked in your sleep for months. I guess we were due.”
Will never remembered whatever nonsense escaped his mouth when he woke after talking in his sleep. She snickered at his contorted arms draped over his face. “Maybe we’re both crazy.”
Instead of getting back under the covers or following the voice to the nursery, she went to the kitchen and made herself a sandwich. She grabbed the pickle jar and piled slices on top of wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes. The stack rose so high she grabbed a knife to cut it. She slid the blade out of its wood block and pushed it through the bread, but when it reached the tomato, the handle oozed in her hand.
She gasped and dropped it. Her shadow blocked the light. Blinking hard she held up her hand and grimaced. Yellow fluid coated her palm and the knife.
“This is definitely not a pregnancy symptom.” She rushed down the hall. “Will!” Her feet slid out from under her and she fell. She did her best to turn to protect the baby, but landed hard on her side.
The lullaby grew louder.
Alexis panted on the floor. She rubbed her baby bump and glanced around the shadows. “Oh God.”
Her pulse thumped in her head with an echo. She reached up to rub it. A slimy coating warmed her fingers. The song grew louder and louder. She couldn’t make out the words. They sounded Spanish, or Portuguese.
A hot breath heaved above her face. The stench of overcooked sausage and beans made her nauseous. It reminded her of her grandmother. “No God,” it said.
“Lex?” Will shouted and the song stopped. His feet thumped down the stairs.
Alexis rolled onto her back crying.
“What are you doing down here?” He knelt before her and wrapped his arms around her body.
She relaxed against him. Barely able to breath between sobs she forced out whatever syllables would come but she couldn’t form any words.
“It’s okay.” He rubbed her head and whispered in her ear. Then he started humming.
She pulled back. “Where… that song?” She forced herself to breath slower.
“I don’t know.” He leaned in to kiss her.
“No.” She pulled away. “That’s the song. The Lullaby.”
He cocked his head at her. “That creepy tune you keep hearing in the nursery?”
She nodded, refusing to let any more tears rob her of her senses. “I came here to get away from it. And then…” her eyes went wide. She forced herself up. Her hips and spine ached, but the baby kicked in response and that was all she needed. She led him to the kitchen counter. The knife lay on the floor. She refused to pick it up.
“Look.” She pointed at it and held up her hand.
“Did you sneeze or something?” His teeth shined under a smirk.
She nudged him. “No. I was cutting my sandwich in half and the knife… just… gooed on me.”
“It gooed?” He raised an eyebrow.
She nodded and rubbed her upper lip with her finger.
“And then you ran into the hall?” His dark eyes fixed on her face.
“Mmm hmm.” She glanced at the doorway. “And then whatever sings that, that song… it followed me. I fell and I thought it was going to kill me and the baby.”
He grabbed her hand. “Are you sure this isn’t a nightmare.” He pressed his hand to her belly. “It’s common for women to have bad dreams before giving birth. I’ve read all about it. Maybe the puss is some kind of water breaking metaphor?”
“Then why is it still here.” She wiped her hand on his sleeve.
He shrugged. “Come on.” He gestured for her to follow him to the baby’s room.
She dragged her feet behind him. “I come in here all the time. Nothing works. I’ve prayed, chanted, lit weird candles like one of those cheap fake magic books they sell at corporate book stores.”
“Can you pinpoint exactly where it’s coming from?” he asked.
She sighed. She walked to the closet, slid the door open, and pressed her hand against the wall.
“A ghost in the closet.” He chuckled. “How original.”
“Shut up, Will. This is serious. It’s not just a dream anymore. You saw the goo. And I fell. I could have landed on the baby and killed it.” Her nose tingled and she held her breath to keep from crying again.
Will walked out of the room, marching to the garage.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“To figure out where the song is coming from,” he called over his shoulder.
Alexis sniffled. She rubbed her arms. A series of bruises had already swelled from her wrist to her armpit where she tried to catch herself during the fall. Afraid the singing would start again she shuffled to her bedroom and grabbed her phone. She stared at it for a moment.
I need to talk to someone who understands. Someone who’s been through this. She swallowed hard at the thought of calling her mom. They hadn’t spoken much since her grandmother died.
She called her anyway.
The phone rang in her ear. Each little buzz matched the rhythm of the soft lullaby still being sung down the hall. When voice mail picked up, Alexis sighed. She almost hung up but instead forced herself to leave a message. “Mom, it’s me. I know we haven’t talked in a few months but I’m in my third trimester now and things are getting weird here at the old house. I was just wondering if you maybe heard things or something when you were pregnant with me. Anyway, sorry to call in the middle of the night. I… I hope you’re well.”
She hung up.
“I don’t know what’s going on in there.” Will’s feet thudded through the hall making her jump again. “But I’ll figure it out.”
Alexis got up and went to the baby’s room. She lingered in the doorway giggling at her husband as he held a spiral saw up to the wall. “Is that really necessary?”
He blinked at her. “If cutting into this makes you feel any better, than hell yeah.” He turned the saw on and cut into the drywall. Dust clouded around the line.
She covered her ears and turned her head to avoid breathing in anything harmful. The singing stopped. Something cried out in a muffled voice, but then went silent.
When Will shut off the saw he pulled a chunk of the wall off and mumbled to himself.
“What is it?” She stepped forward.
He shook his head. He reached in and held up an old pacifier. The nipple was withered and torn. “I don’t know how this got here. But it’s freaky.” He clutched it in one hand and sat back.
She stared at his hand. “There’s got to be some explanation. Maybe during construction someone dropped it?”
Her husband chuckled. He leaned his head against the closet door. “In ten years of construction work, I’ve never dropped a binki in a site and sealed it up. And look.” He held up the piece of wall he drilled out. He pointed at a line that ran through it. “Someone’s opened this up before. Did a good job of sealing it up and painting over it. Who lived here before your parents?”
Her tongue grew heavy. She stared at her bare feet poking out under baggy sweatpants. She didn’t like talking about her. “My grandmother.”
“That explains it.” He got up and dusted off his hands.
She slumped and cradled her belly with her hands. “She’s not haunting us.”
He nodded. “Not me. Not us. But maybe you.” He shrugged. “Is she still singing?”
“No.” Alexis shook her head.
“Good.” He put his arm around her and walked her to their bed. “Maybe she’ll leave you alone.”
She sat down. “You just buy this that easy?” She scooted back and relaxed against the headboard.
The baby kicked.
Her heart heaved.
Will grabbed her feet and sat at the foot of the bed to rub them. “I don’t know what I think. But I know I’m here and nothing’s gonna hurt you or the baby.
“Thanks.” She gazed at his concerned features. “But I can’t sleep now.”
“Me either.” He patted her leg. “Let’s just hang out and watch something.”
She flicked on the TV and tried to pretend that nothing like this had ever happened in her family.
The sun lightened the world around them. Birds sang in the autumn air, and swift winds rustled the leaves. Another rerun ended and Alexis got up to go pee. The second she reached the bathroom someone pounded on the front door.
The bed creaked. “I’ll get it,” Will shouted.
Grateful that he hadn’t fallen asleep, she sat on the toilet but the croaking voice of her mother met her ears and tightened her bladder. Her body tensed so much she had to turn on the water faucet to relax enough to finish. She quickly washed up, and went to meet the consequences of her call.
“Alexandria, baby.” Her mother’s coy smile curled with spite. “I knew you would need me.” The lines at the corners of her eyes deepened and she looked at Will. “She’s always been independent, but I know better.” Her short purple hair would have looked angelic on anyone else, but it darkened the harsh lines around her mouth somehow. Her veins stuck out around her neck in swollen blue pulses.
Will went to Alexis. “Lex is doing just fine. She just had a rough night. Didn’t you?”
She nodded and breathed deep. “I didn’t expect you to come all this way.”
Her mother scoffed at her. “My grandchild will be here soon. Of course I came. When is the due date again?”
“Four weeks,” Alexis whispered as if ashamed.
“That soon?” Her mom exhaled loudly. “That gives no real time for a baby shower.”
“You were invited to the one my mother threw.” Will grasped Alexis’s hand. He kissed it.
She wished this were a nightmare. My mom. Only my mom would drop in like this after losing her house and refusing to move in with us after we swooped in to save it from foreclosure. It’s like she blames me for her irresponsible behavior. At least she doesn’t have a drink in her hand right now.
“You’ve done a lot with this place,” her mom walked past them into the kitchen, changing the subject. She perused the pantry. “Where’s the wine?”
“We got rid of it,” Will said.
“Getting ready for the baby.” Alexis rested her hand on her bump.
“What about the nursery?”
Alexis stared at Will. Her eyes went wide. He gaped at her. “We, uh… are still working on it.”
“Yeah right.” Her mom brushed by them and jogged up the stairs. “Alexandria always has things planned out months in advanced.”
I wish she’d stop using my full name like she owns it or something. Alexis followed as fast as she could.
“Slow down baby.” Will caught up to her. “I’ll fix the closet soon.”
A shriek spiraled through the house and Alexis nearly lost her balance. She grabbed the railing and leaned on it. Her legs sunk under the baby weight, but she reached the top with Will. “What’s wrong?”
She entered the nursery to find her mother bent down in the closet touching the destroyed drywall.
“I’ll have that patched up in just a few hours.” Will went to her and helped her out.
She clutched her chest. “Like you helped my daughter last night.” She jerked away from him and glanced at the bruise on Alexis’s arm.
He stepped back and held his hands up. “Excuse me?”
“Mom, I fell.” Alexis rubbed her arm.
“Of course you did,” her mother’s patronizing voice reminded her why they didn’t often speak, let alone visit each other for very long.
“So are you staying long?” she asked.
Her mom grinned. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with hatred. “I plan to be here when the baby’s born.”
“What hotel are you staying at?” she asked.
Will bit his lip.
Her mother laughed. “You’re so funny.” She linked her arm with Alexis’s. “I’ll be staying here. In my house. It was mine first, you remember?”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Will spoke before Alexis could stop him. She shook her head, but he kept talking. “I mean, Lex needs her rest.”
“Thank you for trying to mansplain my own daughter to me.” Her mother laughed. “I think I can care for her better than you, given the circumstances.” She rubbed Alexis’s bruise and Alexis decided to keep the peace.
“Of course, mom.”
She assured Will she was okay when it was time for him to go to work. She allowed her mother to drain her energies and burn her ears with backhanded compliments, intrusive suggestions, and unwanted tending all day. By nighttime she almost looked forward to the lullaby hoping it would drown out the words her mother forced into her brain.
Will kissed her and they curled up as they did every night, but no sounds erupted. Nothing broke the stillness. Not one note haunted her. No strange tones vibrated through the walls.
A strange sadness overtook Alexis. Her belly tensed and she rubbed her womb. Something’s wrong, she knew.
The longer the darkness went on unsung, the more unsettled she became. Her stomach cramped and she breathed low. “Damn Braxton Hicks.”
She got up and walked to the baby’s room. It felt lifeless and cold. “Please kick.” She rubbed her belly, but the baby didn’t move inside her. She flicked on the light and peered into the closet.
A hand clutched the door from the inside. A small chubby hand with dimples. Blood ran down its fingers.
“No!” She backed away. “No, no, no,” she cried out until her lungs felt as swollen as her arm
“Are you okay?” Will raced to her.
She panted and pointed at the closet. The toddler was gone. “There was… a little…” She shook all over. Her body went numb.
“What are you doing to her?” Her mother stomped down the hall.
Will stood between his wife and her mother. “Nothing. She called out and I came to help her.”
“Sure.” Her mom elbowed him aside and grasped Alexis’s hand. “Oh my god, you’re bleeding. Did he do this to you?”
Alexis wanted to tell her husband everything but her jaw locked. Her mother led her to the bathroom. She washed the cut on her hand. “If you need help, I’m here.”
Alexis nodded. She held up her hand and stared at the split skin. I didn’t touch anything.
She wandered back to the baby’s room and found Will twisted around, staring at the inside of the closet door.
“You should sleep with me tonight.” Her mom tugged at her arm, but she refused to move.
Will stared up at them. “There’s blood here. But it’s dried. Faint and crusted as if it’s been here for years. I don’t know how we missed it. It’s in the perfect spot to be overlooked.”
Alexis raced toward him and threw her arms over his shoulders. He hugged her close. “It’s okay.”
She longed to thank him, to defend him, but her mother leered at her and then a great cramp knocked out her senses. All she could feel was the pain. The stabbing explosive pain in her pelvis.
It was like a bomb. The pressure built and built.
“She’s going into labor.” Her mom licked her lips.
“It’s too soon.” Will gaped and knelt on the floor where Alexis had dropped.
She grasped at the carpet, desperate to fight the burning heat inside. A vision of her mother with a knife cut through her thoughts and she stood. “Why are you here?” She pushed the words out, laboring as if they were her offspring.
“Give us a minute.” Her mother waved Will off.
He glared at her but Alexis nodded. “It’s okay.” She gritted her teeth and balled her hands into fists as the next contraction hit.
The second he was gone, her mother strutted around her. “Look at you. So grown up. Ready to start a family of your own. Like me once.”
Alexis put her hands on her knees and breathed loud and low through another series of contractions. “I am nothing like you,” she screamed.
“We’ll see.” Her mom turned. She closed the door, and locked it. “Mothers always make sacrifices for their children. You are my only progeny. And your life has been quite privileged, don’t you think?”
The contraction passed and Alexis straightened up. She slowly paced the room. The motion of each step offered relief. “Get to the point. You love telling stories, but do you ever have a point?”
Her mom reached behind her. “Always.” She pulled out a dagger and pressed it to her daughter’s neck.
Alexis stepped back.
Her mother closed in. She pushed her against the wall and slid the blade down, down, down to Alexis’s belly. “You hated my mother I know. Almost as much as you hate me, but we sacrificed everything so you could have this life.”
“Please, don’t. You need help. She needed help.” Another contraction crushed Alexis’s insides. She leaned against the wall and tried to remember to breathe, but the knife touching her skin made her scream.
The door handle shook. “Alexis!” Will pounded on the door.
“I am your help. Your savior.” Her mother drew the blade onto its point.
Will banged on the door shouting.
Sweat rolled down Alexis’s face. Her hair clung to her forehead in one sticky mat.
Her mother leaned in and pressed her lips to her ear. “There was a boy before you. And one before me. Your grandmother did away with hers quickly. But I loved your brother. He was so sweet and roly. She said his blood would bring back our savior. If we bathed the world in their sins everything would reset. We would save everyone with a couple of selfless acts. But she was wrong. Everything comes in threes.”
The dagger pressed into Alexis’s skin. She grasped her mother’s wrists. She cried uncontrollably, screaming under the pressure inside and outside her body. Snot ran down her lips and into her mouth.
She glanced at the door waiting for Will to break in and save her. “I’m calling the police,” he screamed through the barrier.
We’ll be dead by then. Her throat closed up.
She couldn’t bear to look at her mother’s hideous insanity. The contractions wouldn’t let up. Her water broke and splashed over both their feet.
Then the song started. High and pure. It filled the room with light. Her pain eased and the toddler hand reappeared at the door.
An angelic little face poked its head out and blinked up at her with the same bright hue of her mother’s eyes, but instead of icy callousness behind them, a warm sense of love and hope beamed out. It walked between her mother’s legs and grasped the dagger.
Her mother stiffened. She released it.
Alexis rushed for the door. She unlocked it and her husband came in. He placed his hand on her bloodied belly. “We need to get you to the hospital.” He didn’t acknowledge the strange apparition, just put himself between her and her mother. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
Alexis gripped his shoulders as another contraction came. “The baby is coming!” The urge to push was too great. She squatted down.
Will patted her back but didn’t turn from her mother.
She pushed and pushed. Her mom just stared. Her eyes eagerly witnessing the birth of a child she just tried to kill. “I can’t do this,” Alexis screamed.
“Yes you can.” Will turned to her.
The singing grew louder and louder. Alexis shut her eyes and clenched, pushing with each breath.
Something broke through and she couldn’t stop. She forced herself to inhale once more and push harder than she had done anything in her entire life. She reached down and caught the gooey baby covered in blood and fluids. Her hands were coated in the same yellow fluid she experienced the night before. She fell back on her bottom and clutched the body tight.
It didn’t breathe.
Will turned to her. He bent down and wiped the baby’s face with his hand. He rubbed its chest and slid his hand under its back. “Like turning an engine.” He forced a smile, but no cry came.
Alexis’s mother laughed. She started singing along with the lullaby. She swayed to the song. “There’s more than one way to kill a baby.”
He rushed her, grasped her head and bashed it against the wall. He stared at the knife on the floor and picked it up.
“Will, no. I can’t take this.” Alexis clutched the lifeless baby in her arms. An angry roar pulsed through the room. The strange toddler cried out. It rushed to Alexis and her baby. She reached for the forgotten child.
Her grandmother’s sadistic laugh chased after him. The stench of her cooking made Alexis nauseous again.
She grasped the child. A burst of lightning filled the room. The toddler wrapped its arms around her neck. It kissed her baby. The brilliant illumination surrounding it slipped into the little body before her. Two small eyes squinted, and a tiny cry erupted.
The laughter died with the song.
“It’s not possible.” Alexi’s mother grasped the cross at her neck and sang the words of the lullaby, but her notes were flat and the words jumbled together. “I killed him. He was given to the darkness.”
Will pushed her mother to the ground. “You will never come near any of us again.”
Tears rolled down her face. “I did this for you.” She spat at Alexis. “We summoned the second coming for your sake and you have doomed us all by not receiving the holy order.”
Alexis kissed her baby. “Thank you,” she whispered to her brother.
“She’s perfect.” Will smiled at his newborn daughter, but Alexis’s mom jumped up and smacked the knife from his hand. She rolled on the floor and gathered it close to her. “I did it for you.” She stabbed herself in the chest. She gasped and pieced her skin again. “For… you,” she croaked with one more hit.
The baby wailed.
Will yanked the knife from her mother with a moan. He sank to the floor before them.
Alexis held out the baby for him. He stared at the knife and tossed it away. Tears gushed from his eyes and he picked up the infant as if it were a crystal heirloom.
Her lips trembled. She tried not to stare at her mother’s lifeless body, but those cold dead eyes locked on her. “I can’t stay here anymore,” she said.
“I know.” Will helped her up and supported her weight on one arm. They walked into the bedroom. Alexis lay on the bed with the baby while he packed as much as they needed.
Sirens blared outside their house. “That’s your ride out of here.” He forced out a smile.
“Our ride.” She hummed the once frightening lullaby. A strange sense of peace soothed her as the police, paramedics, and firefighters poured into the house she grew up in.
She did it all for me, she thought.